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Casualty Litigation

4th DCA Draws the Line Between Foreseeable and Unforeseeable Acts in Premises Liability

On January 15, 2020, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Bryan v. Galley Maid Marine Products, Inc., reversed a circuit court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of defendant Galley Maid Marine Products, a business which builds and manufactures equipment for yachts. 287 So. 3d 1281 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020). The Fourth DCA found that plaintiff/appellant Bryan, a friend of the defendant’s owner who was invited along with others to drink and “hang out” after hours at the shop, was a business invitee after Bryan was attacked “suddenly and without provocation” not once, but twice, by another invited group member.

The first factor to consider regarding the applicable standard of care owed to an individual on a business’s  premises is for what purpose the individual is on the premises. If a business expressly invites an individual onto the property, or an invitation is reasonably implied, the individual is considered an invitee. If an individual chooses to come to a business solely for his/her own convenience without an express or reasonably implied invitation, the individual is considered a licensee. These differing statuses, albeit obscure in some situations, become crucial in determining liability for a business in a negligence or premises liability case because each requires a different standard of care.

The general standard of care owed to an invitee is a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for the purpose for which it is made available. With respect to the physical condition of the premises, the property owner must warn of latent or concealed dangers which are known or should be known to the owner and not known to the invitee. An exception exists to the invitee standard of care which states that a property owner has no duty to protect one on the premises from criminal attacks by a third person, which are considered independent, intervening, and unforeseeable. However, if a criminal act is reasonably foreseeable, a duty may arise between a landowner and his invitee. As in the instance case, foreseeability can be shown through the landowner’s actual or constructive knowledge of prior, similar criminal acts committed by the tortfeasor.

In the case at bar, the Fourth DCA disagreed with the trial court’s determination that a “special relationship” did not exist between the parties and that both separate and isolated attacks were “unforeseeable criminal acts.” The Court concluded Bryan was, in fact, an invitee and although the first attack was unforeseeable, genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether the second attack was foreseeable and whether the defendant had a duty to render or call for aid after the attacks, which he failed to do.

In short, businesses should closely monitor activities on its premises, particularly social in nature, during and outside of operating hours. If a business finds itself in a situation similar to Galley Maid, representatives of the business should promptly render aid to the victim of the assault and immediately expel the assailant from the premises after the first attack. In other words, businesses should take immediate action to reduce liability exposure versus idly standing by while another attack unfolds.

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